Wonderful Pistachios: Should You Buy Them In The Shell?



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Pistachios Bag

I’m a sucker for a good deal, so when I see delicious food at Sam’s Club, I have to resist the urge to stuff it into the already-packed shopping cart. But the last time we went to Sam’s, I saw that Wonderful Pistachios (the brand, although they are inherently wonderful) come in a 3-pound bag in the shell or a 1.5-pound bag already de-shelled.

The Question

Which bag has the lowest cost per unit of pistachio seeds? To clarify, a pistachio seed is what is inside the shell. So for our purposes moving forward, you should assume that when I say seed, I mean a shelled pistachio.

The Hypothesis

I hypothesize that the 3-pound bag of unshelled (shells on) pistachios will have a lower cost per unit of seeds than the 1.5-pound bag of shelled (shells pre-removed) pistachios.

  1. Removing shells takes additional processing at the factory.
  2. Additional processing requires additional engineering, factory workers, machinery, and maintenance.
  3. Those extras cost additional money.
  4. Companies pass extra costs on to consumers, especially when it makes the product more convenient for the consumer.
  5. Pistachios that come pre-shelled are more convenient for the consumer.
  6. Therefore, the cost per unit of seeds will be higher for a product that is more convenient for the consumer and takes more resources to produce for the company.

The Experiment

I decided to put an end to my curiosity by removing the shells from an entire 3-pound bag and weighing the resultant seeds. I was extremely careful to fully separate the seed from its shell and “husk” (the paper-like cover that surrounds many of the seeds after you remove the shell). I captured all of the shells and husks in one bin and all of the seeds in another. The entire process took about four solid hours which I completed over the course of two weeks as I watched TV. My thumbs were so sore from the combination of the salt and sharp edges of the shells that I had to take at least a day off between each session. Until…my new favorite tool arrived in the mail, after which I promptly finished off the bag and excitedly began the weighing process.

The Results

Turns out my hypothesis was totally wrong!

  3-pound bag
(in shell)
1.5-pound bag
(seeds only)
Cost $17.98 $14.98
Weight 1361 g 680 g
Weight of Shells 720 g N/A
Weight of Seeds 675 g 689 g*
Percent Yield 50% (of advertised)
48% (of actual)
Prep. Time 4 hours N/A
Cost Per Gram of Seeds 2.664 ¢/g 2.174 ¢/g

*I assumed that the actual yield of seeds in the 1.5-pound bag was 10% (68 g) less than the advertised weight (680 g). This follows my typical experience with weights on consumer packaged goods. When my pistachios run out, I’ll buy the pre-shelled bag and weigh it so I have an actual figure. Update: I bought the pre-shelled pistachios. To my surprise, the weight of the seeds was actually more than they advertised on the bag. It was supposed to be 1.5 pounds (680 g) but turned out to be 689 g! So the cost is now even lower per gram of seeds than I had initially posted.

What should you do?

Buy the pre-shelled pistachios! You will save approximately four hours of your life and also spend less money. Win-win! So unless you are a glutton for punishment, just take the easy way out. For once, it’s the smart thing to do.

Glamor Shots

Shells from the 3-pound bag in a Krispy Kreme box.
Shells from the 3-pound bag in a Krispy Kreme box
All of the seeds from the 3-pound bag
All of the seeds from the 3-pound bag


32 responses to “Wonderful Pistachios: Should You Buy Them In The Shell?”

  1. Jon Boer Avatar
    Jon Boer

    Absolutely Amazed! I was getting sick of shelling pistachios, but figured I was saving money (I saw the same thing, at Sam’s in fact). I decided to see if anyone on the internet had looked into this and I was delighted to find this blog!


  2. Scooter Avatar

    I prefer the pistachios in the shell because it takes longer to eat. You cannot just pop a handful of them in your mouth. If I ever acquire the self-control to eat the seeds slowly and in small amounts, then I will graduate to them.

  3. Standing next to pistachio stand at Costco… Wondering what I should do…


  4. Amanda Avatar

    I think you have the prices mixed up. When I look at my sam’s club information, the price now for unshelled is $15.98 and that’s for a 2.5 pound bag and the shelled ones are $17.14 for 1.5 pounds.

  5. Wonderful must have wised up. Maybe they are still cheaper elsewhere, but on Amazon, the cost of the un-shelled 2 lb. is $17.31, while the shelled 1.5 lb. is $28.49! Wish I could find the latter at $14.98. What a difference a year makes.

  6. I performed the same test and came up with similar results. However, it seems to me that in-shell pistachios taste fresher than the shelled ones. Maybe the shells absorb some of the moisture so the seeds don’t. Hard to say. In any event, I buy them in the shell even though it costs a little (23%) more.

  7. Richard from MA Avatar
    Richard from MA

    Many years ago in my life most people equated or conceived
    that Pistachios outer shell was red. At that time these nuts were
    exported from Iran. These nuts were smaller in size. Over time
    they were cultivated in California and gained a foothold and would
    take over on the markets. I use both Pistachios and Walnuts to make
    Baklava. The Pistachios give the Baklava a light greenish highlight.
    I also remember the old timers in my family making the Filo sheets
    from scratch. Bear in mind that Butter at that time was salted and
    had to be clarified to be brushed on the Filo Leaves as they were stacked. In those times teams of woman visited to get the job done.
    Today this process is a lot easier. However the right brand or type
    of honey makes a big difference and how it is blended as the syrup
    for. Once I have the components layered in a baking pan. I cut
    measured rows and cross rows and then angle cut for each piece.
    I put the pan in the freezer for a time to prevent the layers from
    shifting. I am now 75 years and the work is worth it even though
    I Get cramps. I can imagine what my parents went through.
    On the bottom line I prefer the shelled, the other way may be
    appropriate or for me arthritis, now older is no joy.

    Thank You

  8. Thanks for this test. I was just at Costco – I don’t remember the prices – but I wondered which would be the better deal. In trying to find this information, I saw that pistachios in the shell stay fresher, longer, which is also a consideration.

  9. Pattie Avatar

    I am doing the same experiment myself, although I am only saving the shells & husks. I figure I can just check unit price per vs unit price. i will then deduct the weight of the shells off the weight on the bag and see what the cost is per bag by the lb vs price per lb of the other bag. Maybe I am wrong, guess I will find that out at the end. If anyone sees a fatal flaw in my thinking, please let me know at redsoxfaninfl@gmail.com…thanks. I don’t mind doing the shelling as Scooter said in 2014, self control plays into it. Me it is the 2nd most major point for me, the first being salt, to me the shelled pistachios are very salty and they seem to get soft and chewy not a good thing..yuk.
    So when I know I will come back & repost on the subject, so keep looking out for me or email me direct…thanks..p.s. give me a good month as I am trying to loose weight and do not want to over due it.

  10. Though difficult to explain (or remember the explanation if there is one) why shell-on tastes fresh, shell-off is chewier and stale. Even though the shells are open, perhaps the husks etc preserve them somehow. It’s surprising that this aspect is not more widely stated and noticed..it renders the shelled/unshelled comparison almost moot. For cooking etc, maybe the per-shelled, for snacking I will never again them.

  11. As strange as it sounds, we could even theorize that supply and demand, perhaps owing the fresher-tasting shells-on, may sometimes drive pre-shelled prices down. If there was a way to preserve freshness of the pre-shelled, idk, like vacuum-pack them or something in portion sized bags etc, I would go for that.

  12. There is an immediate taste difference between pistachios that were sold in their shells and ones that come deshelled. Pistachios with the shell taste much, much better. That’s all there is to it. I’ve never once seen anyone argue to the contrary, and the only thing people mention when speaking in favor of deshelled pistachios is that they’re easier to eat.

  13. Pistachios with shells on taste better because you have to work for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Well maybe the pre-shelled pistachios are droppings from processing the pistachios in the shell. So there is no labor just a method to sell what falls out. Notice you always have some shells in the bag with no pistachio. Then there are the ones which didn’t crack and leaves you to hammer them or throw them. I always like eating the loose ones in the bag but I also thought the other day about how many shelled ones I would eat if I didn’t have to spend the time taking the shell off. I have only had one bag of shelled and they tasted fine to me.

  15. If your pistachios get stale:
    Place on baking sheet put in 200ยฐf oven for up to 30 minutes.
    While still warm the oils in them will cause them to be softer & chewier, when cooled they will be crunchier and fresh.
    Humidity Sucks!
    (Unless you have naturally curly hair & want to show it off)

  16. I, like the others, prefer those in the shell because it takes more time to eat. Also, I don’t buy Wonderful, but buy Trader Joe (who it is said buys from Wonderful); however, I buy one bag of roasted, unsalted; one gab of roasted, salted; and one bag of roasted, 50% less salt, and combine them. Wonderful doesn’t offer 50% less in the stores where I shop. But for recipe purposes, I would prefer shelled.

  17. Cathy Mitchell Avatar
    Cathy Mitchell

    Just want to add in the use of the nut for baking possibilities. (I agree to shelling for immediate consumption)
    I will consider the freshness component, however when I am cooking or baking, the last thing I want to do is spend time shelling nuts. Also, the nuts are oxidizing as I shell them for the recipe requirements.
    Any thoughts?

  18. David Halik Avatar
    David Halik

    It may cost less to buy them shelled but there is one problem. It actually cost more shelled. Let me explain. I bought a bag of shelled and a bag of nut in shell. I ended eating the whole bag of shelled before I knew it. Gone. You’ll end up eating them like popcorn. Eating the bag with the shells on, I had to eat them one at a time preventing me from eating the whole bag making the bag of nuts last longer and enjoy every luscious nut. They may cost a little bit more but you’ll enjoy them longer and save money because you won’t eat them all at once. Can you just pick up one at a time and eat them one at a time. If you can do that, your stronger than I am.

  19. If you’re ever presented with a similar situation with other food products, you can check the serving sizes in the Nutrition Facts. A little math will give you a quick apples to apples comparison.

    Also agree with David. Shelled probably means higher consumption. The U.S. would be a lot thinner if we had to crack open all our food ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. The husk should not be discarded as it contains antioxidants. Store your nuts in freezer whether nor not shelled to retain freshness

  21. I’ve been eating Pistachios for 55+ years… When I first started, they were red & white… Red was the dye, and the white ones had a thick layer of salt on them… Over all these years, I’ve kept eating them… Love the taste… So as an adult, I saw the prices go up, up, and up! With the prices getting so high, I quit eating them as an every day snack… Hallelujah! The prices have finally dropped to an amazing $5.99 per pound (in shell). I remember a couple years ago, Pistachio costs were $19.95 a pound… Sure glad the prices are affordable…Oh, I can eat a pound while piddling around Facebook… Trash can by my side! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  22. Neal Steiger Avatar
    Neal Steiger

    I like Costco’s Kirkland brand pistachios better than Wonderful and other brands I’ve tried. I have found their nuts consistently fresh and – I don’t know why – generally larger than the other brands.

  23. Bob Ingraham Avatar
    Bob Ingraham

    He did not shell 3 pounds of pistachios without eating any. He must of had a backup supply. But thanks for doing this much needed comparison crazy man. This is the kind of thing that our taxes should be spent on.

  24. Before I found your article, I had already done the experiment (with Kirkland). The value I got was 45% of edible nut rather than your 48 %, which is close enough. There could be some difference due to humidity, salinity, oil content, etc.
    The pricing also takes into account the difference in weight and volume (useless), which has to be handled and transported.
    I like your conclusion.

  25. Another factor to consider would be the size of the nuts themselves. Some are tight and some are loose in the same shell size and weight.
    May be some ”bean counter” would have the patience to count how many beans per pound of different brands.

  26. I agree with BL. Shelled Ps are just better tasting, period. The skins makes the taste MUCH better than the bare ones. And anyone saying the time it takes to take the shells off are what make it taste better are out of their minds. IT’S THE SKINS!

    Maybe I’m just nuts…

  27. Maddie Avatar

    All I can say is, I am never buying pre-shelled pistachios to snack on again (would likely be fine for recipes though). Just purchased the Wonderful brand Roasted & Salted pre-shelled pistachios (12 oz) and they are not very good (sell by date is far in the future, so they are not an old package). The random bag of pistachios w/ shells I purcased from Giant tasted noticeably much better. Yes, it’s a bit of work (and messier) if you need to shell them yourself (esp if you like to snack while sitting in front of your computer at work), but there is really no comparison in taste. As with many things in life, those you have to work for generally are a bit better!

  28. Anna Fox Avatar
    Anna Fox

    In the shell is better! It takes longer to eat, licking salty shell feels good and you burn a bit of energy trying to reach the delicious shells.

  29. Olav the Viking Avatar
    Olav the Viking

    Just weighed out 100 grams of shelled nuts (Kirkland), cracked and ate the good stuff (53 grams) and wound up with 47 grams of shells for the chicken garden. Will update if the yield percentage differs significantly from this first test batch.

  30. So the math in all examples checks out, but what is the tipping point on pricing in the store. Product prices go up and down, so what is the costs difference to look for between shelled and unshelled to know if the shelled ones are still cheaper that day ? If costs is the only factor and not taste or time spent opening them.

  31. Apurva Nigam Avatar
    Apurva Nigam

    Thank you very much for sharing this. I wanted exactly the same analysis. Thanks for saving my time by posting your analysis otherwise I would have wasted my 4hours as well doing the same experiment ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. someone should be concerned with the possibility of mold presence in pistachios. Make sure that you buy nuts that were grown in US. The article below discusses “shelled vs unshelled” mold contamination. Although I get confused with shelled/unshelled terminology. It would be better if those had been called as “shell off and shell on”

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